Welcome to a wondrous place. A place where all-day parties are a regular occurrence, where naps are sometimes encouraged, and play time is part of the regular schedule. A realm where ice cream and Cheez-It crackers flow abundantly and the hardest projects you face are usually done by your parents. It’s…Elementary School.
I call it The Land Before Cell Phones (and Facebook).
There’s an innocent, unpretentious quality about the whole environment that makes me nostalgic and jealous all at the same time. You can see what humanity looks like undisturbed, unbroken, and unpolished. I realize these are sweeping generalizations, and that some elementary-age kids have seen horrors and heartbreaks that even I have never known. But, for the most part, this is life before everything becomes confusing and difficult. It’s a place that provides a refreshing change of pace.
Every Friday at lunchtime during the school year, you’ll find me hanging out with my two children in their elementary school lunch room. I’m fortunate enough to have Fridays off, and I can’t think of a better lunch date than my 5th-grade son and my 1st-grade daughter. And it’s always a fascinating scene…
- There is not a teacher in sight. If you were an uninformed newcomer to this atmosphere, you would assume that a small band of brave-but-frazzled adults were left in charge of hundreds of crazy kids. Sometimes it feels a little like the inmates running the asylum. (There is the one lady whose sole job seems to be volume control. But, despite the vigor with which she performs her duty, it never works.) I don’t know what teachers do during this time, but don’t go looking for them in the lunch room. You won’t find them. I can only assume they’re in the teacher lounge, probably checking their cell phones and updating their Facebook page. Not that I blame them. They deserve a break. They work hard and put up with a lot of stuff for not a lot of money. They spend more time investing in my children than anyone else, and for that I am grateful. I only hope my kids don’t do anything that lands them in a frustrated Status update or tweet from the teacher lounge.
- The lunch ladies are on a serious power trip. One time, I required some extra ketchup for my lunch. So I went up to the line to grab some more. I didn’t realize how rare and precious a resource it is, apparently. I was surprised to find them guarding the ketchup packets as if they were Aztec Gold. Channeling Captain Jack Sparrow, I had to create a diversion and display some clever swashbuckling skills, but I managed to commandeer three packets, savvy? As I was walking away with the booty (oh, stop), one of the lunch ladies caught me eye and glared at me. I just shrugged and said, “Pirate.”
- My children handle things a lot differently. The rule when parents come to lunch is that you can choose one friend to sit with you. My son is an introvert. He’s friendly to everyone, but he doesn’t need a lot of relationships in his life. He has a “best friend” that sits with us most of the time, but he’s also perfectly content to just let it be me and him. He’s always completely engaged in the conversation we have over lunch (usually about sports). My daughter is an extrovert. I would call her a social butterfly, but butterflies are way too quiet. When it comes time for her to choose who will sit with us, this crazy scene unfolds where a group of eight or so kids start clamoring for her attention and begging for her to pick them, drawing closer to her (and me) and increasing in volume and passion with every second that it takes her to decide. It makes me nervous sitting in the middle of this mini-riot that is developing. Like the seven who aren’t chosen are just going to start kicking and pinching and biting or something. When we finally get to the table, I’m really more of a base for the social networking operation that she has going on.
- Kids are better at relationships than adults. The interaction that takes place between these little people is unique. It’s all so honest and…uncomplicated. It made me wonder how much more meaningful our relationships would be if we were more accepting and refused to play games with each other. If we didn’t see color, if economic status didn’t matter, if we were kind to each other, regardless of our differences. But that’s never going to happen is it? We like things complicated, apparently. Kids know better.
There are a lot of other dynamics going on, and I wish I had more time to share them with you. Maybe at a later time. But right now, I’ve got other pressing things to do.
I need to check my cell phone and update my Facebook status.